by Canyon Runner
After a 5 day stretch of flat calm conditions, the wind is starting to blow again here in Stuart,Florida and its a good thing as I need to get some sleep. When the owner of the Blue Runner, a 60 foot Ritchie Howell, asked me back in August if I had an interest in running his boat this winter in Florida, I weighed the fact that the last few winters were slow for bluefin commercially, but on the other hand, I really wasn't that interested in sailfishing. With a promise that we would go exploring and focus on Swords, wahoo and bottom fishing as well as knowing the owner has a very relaxed program, my decision was easy. Fast forward to Wednesday January 4, I am sitting in the airport on my way back to Florida after spending the holidays with my family. I am looking at the forecast and seeing flat calm conditions for days so I start calling my friends that had expressed an interest in fishing with us this winter. With such short notice I really didn't expect anyone to be able to make it, but with just the owner and I as crew, any help was appreciated. By the time I landed at West Palm later in the afternoon, I had a firm commitment from one of my childhood friends and another friend that had a long history fishing for Giant Bluefin Tuna . Lewis and Jimmy had fished together for many years for giants with much success, but had never caught wahoo or swords. After picking them up Thursday afternoon at the airport, we spend the rest of the day preparing for a Friday/ Saturday overnight trip.
Friday morning dawns still as predicted and we set off in search of wahoo. We started with the standard high speed set up and after a few hours of trolling, have nothing to show for it. We collectively decide that the trolling weights don't look natural and it just doesn't feel right trolling at 12-15 knots, so we slow down and go to a more standard spread that we would pull in the canyons of the Northeast. Shortly thereafter we get two flatline bites and one rigger bite, coming tight on two. Jimmy and Lewis land their first wahoo and high fives follow. We end up the day going 6 for 11 on the wahoo and adding a Blackfin tuna to the mix. As the sun gets low in the sky, we start looking around for prime bottom to set out the sword spread. During December , we tried the normal spots with little success, so we make up our mind the think outside the box and find an area that has seen little pressure .. we find an area that looks good on the chart, but its a long run. We make the run and set out the first rod. As soon as we get it set, the rod doubles over and we all look at each other in amazement. It was short lived as we bring up a shark, not a good sign. We reset the spread and wait about half an hour when the lines start to cross. I picked up the rod to move it around and feel the "tap, tap" of a sword then slack. I reel like hell and come tight and the battle begins. Lewis is up and lands his first sword pretty quickly , a nice 55" fish. We get another shark bite , then another sword, releasing another keeper about the same size as the first. The bites continue with another shark, a missed sword, then a good hookup around 4:15am. I get my chance on the rod and boat a nice 170 lb sword in about 20 minutes.
We reset and miss one more sword bite before dawn, ending the night 3 for 5 on swords. We decide to finish up the trip with a little bottom fishing and catch a nice mixed bag of snapper, grouper, AJ's and a really nice African Pompano, releasing everything except the pompano.
With the weather cooperating and feeling really upbeat about our trip , we decide to get in early and prep for a Sunday/Monday trip.
Sunday dawns beautiful and we set off in search of wahoo again. We find the bites , but pull a bunch of hooks only landing one hoo. With the sun bright, the bite slowed down so we go exploring some more bottom fishing spots and end up with a mixed bag much the same as the day before. With the sun getting low, we decide to overthink things and go to a different sword spot that looks even better on the charts. We get set up and spend four hours with one shark bite and one Blackfin tuna before we decide to go back to where we had fished two nights earlier. We get set out and start the wait. We wanted to fish a deep bait with the full moon, so we set out the LP1200 electric as the 400 foot rod. This reel is used for daytime swording and deep drop and puts out tremendous drag for extended periods. About 12:30 am the line starts burning off the reel and we begin what would become the most epic battle any of us have ever seen.
The fish showed itself after only 20 minutes or so , coming to the surface and slashing its huge sword and jumping once. It then decided it did not like what it saw on the surface and sounded. We watched the line counter on the reel start its descent, not stopping until the sword was at 1300 feet. For the next 3 hrs we battled it out with the fish between 1000-1400 feet and showing no signs of slowing down. We started adding more drag hoping to break the swords will, bit it wouldn't budge. I started adding pressure with my gloved hand and very slowly we started to gain foot by foot. By the 6 hour mark we had the fish within a few hundred feet of the boat but fatigue was setting in and the gear was becoming a worry. With no choice we continued adding drag and continued gaining line. By the 7 hour mark we were getting the 50 foot topshot on the reel. The topshot was on and off the reel at least a dozen times but we were slowly gaining. By now the sun was up and the swivel finally breaks the surface. We reach for the weight but its just out of reach. As the fish circles we are looking right at it and ready to harpoon but it takes back a little line. We work it close again and are getting ready for the harpoon shot when the fish decides to turn and burn. As she takes off the top shot flies off the reel and the braid explodes as it clears the rod and the fish is gone. She was the sword of a lifetime for us , and easily over 500 lbs. It was one of the most difficult losses I have ever had, but at the same time I know that fish swam away strongly and we have something to shoot for. Fatigue has set in and we decide to just go in early and regroup. We get back to the dock and plan for a day of rest and tackle prep. Well the owner has different ideas. He says "I can't go tonight, but this is the last day of great weather and you guys need to get back on the horse". We look at each other and say what the hell and start prepping tackle, re-fueling and food shopping. By 3:45 we are off and headed to the spot we had left dejected only hours before. With just three of us on the boat and being tired , we plan for 2 guys up and one sleeping on rotation. We get to the grounds and Jimmy and I start setting out while Lou goes to take a shower. Within minutes I see a bite on the deep rod and we are tight .. its not even dark yet and its game on . The fish cooperates and we have number one sword of the evening on deck at 58". We reset and begin the wait. It doesn't take long and we are tight again. This continues and by 1am we are 7 for 8 and very low on bait. I am taking a nap when Jimmy comes in and wakes me to say he popped a hamstring trying to net a flying fish. He is in a lot of pain and is officially out of commission but insists we keep fishing. I make the call to fish until 4:30 or so, so that we will have some light coming in the inlet. I lay back down and leave Lewis on watch. At around 2:15 he announces we are tight once again and he and I go to work with Jimmy coaching us on from the couch in the salon. We make good progress and have color in 25 minutes or so, we unclip the weight and get leader in hand. I sink the poon and we have the fish secure. Lewis and I decide to pull her over the transom and I guess adrenaline had kicked in because we pulled her over and were very surprised to see she was 78 inches in the 270 lb class. We started cleaning up as we had used up all our bait, ending fishing before 3am with my best night of swordfishing ever under my belt going 8 for 9 on swords. All in all a great trip for everyone. With a night of sleep , I am chomping at the bit for the wind to lay out and get on the sword grounds again.